Shape-Shifters: How Did You Think of That?

SwainsonHawk23One of the hardest questions for a fiction writer to answer is exactly where an idea came from. I was asked that question recently about some of the imagery in one of my books. The short answer is that I imagined it, but the long answer mixes research, experience, imagination and dreams.

In what is basically realistic fiction with paranormal elements, I create some characters who have unusual abilities—psychics, healers, mediums, and shamans. A few can take—or seem to take— animal forms, and my Apache characters speak about this with fear and caution as the sign of a witch. Bearing is a horror story (though gore-free), so in that genre I made the shifting real. In the Mae Martin Mysteries, characters who shape-shift are not physically becoming animals but psychically manipulating others’ perceptions to create the illusion of another creature, or so strongly identifying with an animal that a psychic could pick up the imagery. The power of our minds to share images and information is astounding, and that ability is at the root of the stories I tell.

When I was choosing search terms to help readers find Bearing, one of the ones I chose was shape-shifter, a concept that I associate with skin-walkers and similar witches. I was surprised to find that there are shape-shifter romances. The possibility that this power was romantic had never crossed my mind. To me it’s scary, so it’s an element I use in fiction to give readers goosebumps. What makes an animal image scary to one person and beautiful and powerful to another is often regional and cultural. One of my Apache friends told me some terrifying stories of owl-witches that chilled me to the bone. He scared himself by telling them and said he shouldn’t be talking about the subject. When I was in my teens, I had what turned out to be a premonition, a frightening image of someone prowling outside the house hooting like an owl. Around ten years later, my roommate and I were disturbed at night by owl calls first at the front and then at the back of our townhouse apartment. Her cat’s hair stood on end and he quivered and made pitiful sounds, his fear scaring us all the more. We’d never seen him act like that. My roommate looked outside and saw a man she worked with but didn’t know well, and she called the police. The man admitted to stalking her but couldn’t explain what had gotten into him with the owl calls. Somehow that was creepier than if he knew.

One of my good friends in high school had repeating nightmares about wolves looking through every window of her house, and the way she told it gave me the shivers. When I was a very small child, I had repeating nightmares about bears, including a strange one in which I was a fourteen-year-old boy camping on a hunting trip with an uncle, and it ended with being attacked—I think killed—by a bear. No one in my family hunted or camped, and I had never seen a bear or a gun or even a tent at the age at which I dreamed this.

A little girl I knew years ago liked to think she had hawk powers. We were swinging in swings and she told me the reason she could go so high was this special power she had. She stayed in my mind, too, as another way that people identify with animal spirits.

This can be a “treasure hunt” through the series now. (Obviously the bear story is the standalone Bearing.) Readers will find the wolf, the hawk and the owl in the Mae Martin series. No spoilers. I’ll let you look for them.

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5 thoughts on “Shape-Shifters: How Did You Think of That?

  1. Thank you so much for writing this, Amber. I am still trying to incorporate some of the Apache imagery, especially of animals and birds and integrate it into my pattern of thinking. M love of Native American ideology creates a need for me to understand it and learn more of it intimately. I had two day dreams as a younger person; visual actualization…I wanted to either live on a reservation or work in a drug and alcohol rehab. The latter wish was fulfilled, but I still have always been driven towards Native American anthropological cultural studies.
    Shamanism, witch craft, paranormal, precognition, dream fulfillment and psychic healers are all very familiar to me; I have had personal, but second-hand experience in this realm ( including vampirism [not the type when a bat turns into a person and back again to a bat}. I also believe that angels surround us. We are products of a Jungian Collective Unconscious’ and sometimes it can be a little frightening.
    I found your book The Calling to be an excellent read for many reasons, and you say The Bearing is a standalone? I could say so much more, but I don’t make to be a ‘spoiler.’ Let me just add one more thing; reading the first Mae Martin novel conjured many incidents from my childhood and adolescence; things I must have suppressed.

    Thank you ever so much for writing this.

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    • I’m glad what I wrote reached you so strongly. I have to ask–vampirism? Oh my gosh. What does this mean? (I think of some people as “chi vampires”–people who steal energy–but I don’t even read books about the turn-into-a-bat-undead kind.)

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      • Your book is wonderful, and I can’t wait to begin the others in this series. I am a magnet for strange and unusual people, Amber, and being a practicing Catholic, although endowed with psychical gifts from the maternal side of my family ( Ukraine; Carpathian Steppes), I am more than familiar with Prince Vlad; his castle was located near my great grandmother’s village; the villagers, all very Orthodox Catholic, Byzantine Rite, would travel to spit on his grave, and my great grandmother was the village shaman. She healed the sick with her mixtures of herbs and plants ( including poppies) and also read tea leaves. However, to answer your question, I did know someone who believed that human blood was necessary for life, and from former students who knew local prosecutors, many victims of murder are discovered without a trace of blood; they do not make this public for fear of public panic. I have other things to relay to you. Amber, you are an amazing writer.

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      • Just a thought; stones have a major significance in The Calling; have you ever investigated or researched the blue stones of Stone Henge some claim to be healing forces?

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